Goya - Monsters and Matadors (4 stars)

National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh, until Sun 25 Feb


There is something unsettlingly contemporary about the etchings on display in this exhibition; they are vivid and raw. Goya’s ‘Disasters of War’ is the centrepiece to this modest collection, and rightly so. The important series, not published during his lifetime due to its graphic and political nature, is ironically one of his most influential works. Without it Picasso would not have arrived at ‘Guernica’, and, more recently, the Chapman Brothers would not have had his work to gorge on.

The exhibition is divided into three sections: ‘The Tauromaquia’, ‘Disasters of War’ and ‘The Proverbios or Follies’, each featuring original etchings from the respective series’. Goya presents a social commentary in all three, most graphically in ‘Disasters of War’, in which he depicts the traumas of the Peninsular War, most satirically in ‘The Proverbios or Follies’.

The translations of Goya’s titles often vary. In turn the levels of satire in his work are difficult to measure. ‘This is Worse’, from the ‘Disasters of War’ series, depicts a man impaled (through his groin) on a tree. The combination of attention to composition and apt titling are lost in the Spanish/ English translation, investing this and other works with satirical ambiguity. ‘The Proverbios or Follies’ series, however, is a more straightforward social satire, which plays on Spanish proverbs, Goya exercising his masterful etching technique, which links the exhibited works. This historically significant collection of etchings is a ‘must see’ before they return to the vaults.

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